Facilitator neutrality in the context of war and oppression #StandWithUkraine

Ukraine anti-war protest, 6 March 2022 in London

“We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” – Olga Gulaya, facilitator – Kyiv, 6 March 2022.

Better to light a candle than curse the darkness – Amnesty International

The supposed ‘neutrality’ of the facilitator has been something of a bone of contention among facilitators for as long as I can remember. Perhaps because of that contention, the word neutrality does not appear in the Statement of Values and Code of Ethics that all IAF members are required to support, although it does appear in the Core Competencies that all IAF Certified Professional Facilitators are required to demonstrate and evidence.

IAF Statement of Values

As group facilitators, we believe in the inherent value of the individual and the collective wisdom of the group. We strive to help the group make the best use of the contributions of each of its members. We set aside our personal opinions and support the group’s right to make its own choices. We believe that collaborative and cooperative interaction builds consensus and produces meaningful outcomes. We value professional collaboration to improve our profession.

F3. Trust group potential and model neutrality

  • Honour the wisdom of the group
  • Encourage trust in the capacity and experience of others
  • Vigilant to minimise influence on group outcomes
  • Maintain an objective, non-defensive, non-judgmental stance

What I think is apparent, notwithstanding competence F3, is that facilitation is not a neutral practice or profession at all. It is not neutral to support some values over others, or some competencies over others. It is not neutral to advocate for facilitation to be “used throughout the world to address the challenges faced by people in their groups, organizations and communities” as the IAF Vision does.

While we “set aside our personal opinions and support the group’s right to make its own choices“, and while “we are vigilant to minimize our influence on group outcomes” and “maintain an objective, non-defensive, non-judgmental stance“, we “believe in the inherent value of the individual and the collective wisdom of the group“, we “do not impose anything that risks the welfare and dignity of the participants” and we “strive to engender an environment of respect and safety where all participants trust that they can speak freely and where individual boundaries are honoured“.

While we must strive to ‘model neutrality’ in respect of the content of the group’s work, in order to be effective in our role as facilitator, we need not and perhaps cannot be neutral to it. We cannot and must not be neutral to the group’s process. We must demonstrate and advocate for respect, equity and inclusion, for dialogue and consensus.

To demonstrate and advocate for the values and competencies that we believe are needed to improve group effectiveness and to address the challenges faced by people around the world, we must stand up for them and we must be seen and heard to stand up for them. That must mean also standing up against those systems and structures of power, discrimination and oppression, violence and war, that deny the inherent value of the individual and the collective wisdom of the group, that risk people’s welfare and dignity and that obstruct or destroy an environment of respect and safety.

As I wrote last September in Reflecting on a year of freelance facilitation online, and looking ahead, “I have been challenged by the Black Lives Matter movement and other recent manifestations and responses to systemic injustice and oppression, and by clients who have been similarly challenged, to reflect on how I might ensure that my own practice is more effectively and explicitly anti-racist, feminist and anti-oppressive, and to commit to working on that.“. That work has already included joining the excellent Feminist Leadership Programme of We Are Feminist Leaders and seeking to ally with others by offering Free facilitation coaching.

More recently I have been shocked and appalled by the unfolding Russian invasion of Ukraine. I have been concerned for the safety and well-being of IAF and ICA colleagues that I have worked with in Ukraine, and more recently in Russia. I have been struggling to know how to respond, knowing that I cannot know what is needed and that anything that I do will not be enough.

I have been awed and inspired by much of the resolve, resistance, solidarity and leadership that I have seen in response to the war. I am grateful to those colleagues in Kyiv who have challenged me this week to realise that every show of support is valued, and that support that is unseen and unheard is no support at all. I am grateful also to those colleagues in Moscow who have shown support and resistance themselves.

ICAI Sunflowers

I am thankful that ICA colleagues are mobilizing together to show solidarity and support in Standing with the peoples of Ukraine, and that IAF colleagues too are making plans to do so.

Please do whatever little you can to add your support, and to show your support and solidarity. #StandWithUkraine️



See also about me, how I work, who I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Are you planning an online conference, Forum or General Assembly?

Free facilitation webinar: Taking your event online: what could possibly go wrong?


Below is a ‘menu of services’ that I have been able to provide to a number of clients planning such online events in recent years. Please contact me as early as you can if you could benefit from such support as you plan, prepare and deliver your own event.

The scope and scale of service delivered for these recent projects has ranged from just a few days of consulting and coaching from myself alone over a week or two, to a larger package of consultation, coaching and Introduction to Facilitation Online training with multiple teams from myself and a co-facilitator over several weeks, to anything from 10 to 50 days or more of comprehensive support over several months from myself and a larger team with diverse skills able to provide many if not all of the menu of services.

Colleagues that I have collaborated with on such projects recently have included Orla Cronin, Marie Dubost, Charo Lanao, Judy Rees, Hector Villarreal Lozoya and Bruno Selun – I am thankful to them for the teamwork that has made many of these projects possible.

Recent such client contracts have included:

  • with Action Aid International, facilitation coaching and support for the Convener, Organising Committee and Governance staff of the Global Secretariat in preparation for sessions of the online 2021 Annual General Meeting
  • with Amnesty International, design and lead facilitation of a series of 17 sessions of the online 2021 Global Assembly, involving a multilingual team of 5 facilitators and 3-4 delegates of each of almost 70 member entities worldwide working in English, French and Spanish
  • with Amnesty International, Europe & Central Asia region, lead design and facilitation of a 4-week online 2021 Regional Forum involving over 100 delegates from around 25 member organisations in over 20 sessions
  • with OMCT, design consulting and facilitation training over 3 months in support of the first online Global Week Against Torture in 2021
  • with Oxfam Ireland, online facilitation training and coaching with staff in Ireland and of six African programme partners, in support of their first online Annual Partnership Meeting together in 2020
  • with the ISEAL Alliance, online facilitation training and coaching in support of their first online ‘Members’ Month’ in 2020
  • with ILGA Europe on behalf of Kumquat Consult, design consulting and facilitation training in support of the first online ILGA Europe 2020 Annual Conference
  • with Amnesty International, design and facilitation of a series of six online Global Strategy Labs involving around 150 delegates representing 70 national entities worldwide working in English, French and Spanish in 2020
  • with the Amnesty International Europe & Central Asia region, lead design and facilitation of a 3-day online 2020 Regional Forum involving over 100 delegates from around 25 member organisations – blog post
  • with FAO, design and facilitation of the 2015 online conference “Economics of Climate Change Mitigation Options in the Forest Sector” engaging over 900 international experts – case study

“Martin and his team provided outstanding support during Amnesty International’s 2021 Global Assembly which for the first time was held entirely online. They were integral in the planning of the model which helped to ensure broad participation and access for delegates of almost 70 member entities. Their experience and familiarity with facilitating online spaces were game changing and were critical in helping to build trust in the process and in a new model of digital governance.” – Ann Burroughs, Chair of the 2021 Global Assembly and Preparatory Committee, Amnesty International – Sep 16, 2021

“Together with other folks at the Kumquat team Martin helped us to organize the ILGA-Europe Gathering Online 2020. Organizing a large event online for the first time came with many questions and challenges. Martin particularly helped us with providing training and assistance to put together the flow of the programme and to ensure that we were ready to facilitate the many spaces that our event was made up with. It was a pleasure working with Martin!” – Björn van Roozendaal, Programmes Director at ILGA-Europe – Feb 25, 2021

“In November 2020, Martin provided invaluable support to Oxfam Ireland in the build-up to a series of multi-stakeholder online workshops. He provided tailored ‘coaching sessions’ to our team, which helped us to prepare and deliver several engaging virtual sessions. These sessions directly catered to our needs, building our ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ virtual facilitation skills and knowledge. Furthermore, he also co-facilitated an in-house “Introduction to Facilitation Online” workshop with colleagues across Southern and Eastern Africa. This excellent workshop was well received by all participants. Thanks, Martin!” – Rosa Brandon, Programme Quality Officer at Oxfam Ireland – Feb 22, 2021

“WOW! Awesome contributions from 200+ participants at the #ECCMOFS REDD+ online conference session. Feeling inspired @FAOForestry”  – Ruth Mallett, Consultant at UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) – February 13, 2013


Menu of services

Before

Project management: We can work with you to clearly define the project and its boundaries, starting from a clear purpose statement (including outputs and outcomes) that will help align your various stakeholders’ expectations of the event. We can help you make it operational by translating it into a clear project plan and division of responsibilities, and we can accompany you in delivery.

We will recommend using an online project management tool across the entire team (internal and external) to achieve and maintain this throughout – we can provide and support you to use Basecamp or Asana, or join an existing platform you’re already using internally, or we can support you to acquire and use your own platform. Such a platform will be crucial to deliver such a complex project on schedule.

Conceptualisation: Support for the overall design and conceptualisation of a coherent event, including flow, timing, duration and format to maximise engagement and participation to best meet your aims and ambitions within your constraints, including budget and capacity. We can help you to identify what types of sessions should be offered (including format, degree of participation, types of outcomes, etc.), allowing you to then populate the programme using those session types.

Participation design: We can work with you to identify what sort of participation (how much, how broad, how deep) each session type will require, and the number of participants expected or desired. These will make up the event’s participation requirements, which with security & accessibility requirements will allow us to advise which service(s), platform(s) and/or tool(s) you should consider.

Session call & selection: We can support you in the setup and running of a session call, proposal and selection system for submitters, reviewers and decision-makers – including technical support, training and assistance

Communication: We can advise you on how and when to communicate with prospective and confirmed participants, session leaders, speakers and other stakeholders in order to manage their expectations and preparations in alignment with those of the event as a whole.

Platform selection & setup: We can help you in researching and reviewing available options and selecting an online event platform to meet your specific requirements, including in relation to security, pricing, functionality and much more. We can help you with setup and troubleshooting of your selected platform, including the pre-registration, registration, event and post-event phases

Additional tools: Depending on your requirements and choice of platform, we can support you to select, configure and use additional tools for participant inclusion and engagement, e.g. for interpretation, voting, Q&A, brainstorming, visualisation, networking etc.

Facilitation training & coaching: We can help you determine how to best recruit additional facilitators if needed, whether volunteers or professionals. We can design and deliver bespoke facilitation training, drawing on a range of existing and well-established training modules (see above). We can offer tailored coaching & troubleshooting sessions for session facilitators and producers, individually or in pairs or small teams, to support them in their session design and preparation.

Technical preparation: We can help you with the technical preparation of your team, speakers and moderators to run their sessions through the event platform – technical checks, testing all platforms & tools used to ensure they’re familiar with them on the day

During

Technical support (a.k.a. production): On-call technical support for the full duration of the event, both inside and between sessions, to ensure everything goes according to plan, and to deliver backup solutions in the event of a failure (e.g. if a speaker or session leader can’t connect)

Facilitation support: We can help by facilitating or producing particular sessions or parts of sessions for you, or the whole event, or by co-facilitating or co-producing to support your own session teams to do so

After

Evaluation: Design, delivery and analysis of a bespoke evaluation survey to collect actionable feedback from your participants regarding what went well, what didn’t, and how to improve future events


See also free facilitation webinars including:

See also about mehow I work and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Are you interested to meet or socialise with other GOC members online, from the comfort of your home?

Join our new Online group, Weekly Online Social and scheduled online events!

Probably like most members, I didn’t join the Gay Outdoors Club to attend online meetings – least of all to lead them. It turns out, however, that there is now an interest in connecting, meeting and socialising online, even among members of an outdoor club like GOC.

So, after managing GOC’s Twitter and Facebook feeds for a year or more, I have stepped up to launch and co-ordinate a new Online group as well. Initially at least, I am offering to support GOC’s 1,400+ members (assuming that not all will be interested!) to use Wonder and Zoom, in conjunction with Calendly, to connect and socialize informally and to schedule and host their own online meetings and events.

What follows is todays’ news post launching the new Online group, and the member-only page How to use Zoom and Wonder with member-only links and passwords omitted.


Join our new Online group, Weekly Online Social and scheduled online events!

Are you interested to meet or socialise with other GOC members online, from the comfort of your home?

Perhaps you don’t find it easy to join many of our outdoor events for one reason our another, or you’re interested to connect with members beyond those that you usually meet in person? Perhaps you are a co-ordinator of one of our other local or specialist groups and you are interested to host events online as well as outdoors, or to meet online to co-ordinate and plan your group and its outdoor events?

Since we first announced our new online meeting tools in a news post just before Christmas, members have taken the opportunity to mingle and socialize informally online with others from around the country and even to schedule and host their own online events for their own groups. There has been sufficient interest that we are now launching a new specialist Online group to co-ordinate and promote the new Weekly Online Social and scheduled online events.

Whatever your interest, and whatever your level of technical experience or expertise, please join us – you are welcome!

  • For further details of the group, the weekly Tuesday night social and other events, and how to join, please check out our new Online group page.
  • For further details of our new online meeting tools, available to all members and groups, check out our new member-only page How to use Zoom and Wonder.

I hope to see you online soon, if not also outdoors!

Martin Gilbraith, Online group co-ordinator.


Join our new Online group, Weekly Online Social and scheduled online events!

How to use Zoom and Wonder

Are you interested to network or meet with other GOC members, online from the comfort of your home?

Please join our new Online group to receive group updates of news and online events, however you don’t need to join the group to use new our online meeting tools – they are available for all membership:

  • Our Zoom meeting room is suitable for the kind of private online meeting that you might otherwise hold in a physical meeting room. It is accessible on a computer, tablet or smartphone via an app, or with more limited functionality via your browser or you can even dial-in by telephone. Scroll down for how to schedule a meeting in Zoom and invite other members, whether for GOC social or ‘business’ purposes.
  • Our Wonder networking space is suitable for the more fluid kind of online socialising that you might otherwise do at a GOC event outdoors, or in the pub or tea room afterwards. It is accessible on a computer via Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge – sorry, not yet on a tablet or smartphone or via Safari or other browsers. Read on for how to meet, mingle and network freely with other members in Wonder.

Meet and mingle in Wonder – from 8pm every Tuesday, or whenever you please

Our Wonder space is open 24/7, and it is entirely free to GOC. You can meet others there by arrangement, or you can drop by to see if anyone is there – for our Weekly Online Social from 8pm every Tuesday, or whenever you please. You are welcome to use it any time, and for as long as you like.

Wonder can accommodate up to 1,500 at a time in self-organising ‘circles’ of up to 15 – like zoom breakout groups, but more fluid and more fun. You can lock your circle for a private meeting, or you can leave it open to allow others to join you. If you are curious to know more about Wonder, see this report from Tech Crunch.

To use Wonder for the first time, take a few minutes in advance to view the short video (here and below) and follow the steps access the space. There’s no need to create a new account or log-in, or to download or install new software. Your browser will remember your settings for your future visits, so you will only have to go through these steps once. You can view the same steps also in writing here, and you can find additional support at Wonder Help and Troubleshooting Guide.

To add an event in Wonder to the GOC events calendar for other members to join, just submit an event in the usual way. You don’t need to worry about whether anyone else will be using the space at the same time, because there is plenty of room for everyone. In the member-only information under ‘meeting point’, include a link to this page How to use Zoom and Wonder and the following link and password for direct access to our Wonder space:

  • To access our Wonder space click here – the password is XXX.
To use Wonder for the first time, take a few minutes in advance to view the short video

Schedule a Zoom meeting and invite other members

Our Zoom meeting room can accommodate just one meeting at a time, so you will need to schedule your meeting in advance at a time that is not already booked. Use the Zoom calendar (below) to schedule a one-off meeting in the next 30 days, or email Online group co-ordinator Martin Gilbraith to request a recurring meeting or a meeting more than 30 days ahead.

When scheduling your meeting in the calendar, allow an additional 15 minutes before and after if you need it as another meeting may be scheduled directly before or after yours. Please do not schedule more time than you need, however, so as to leave time available for others. If you find the date and time that you want is not available in the calendar for a longer meeting, you might find that it is available for a shorter one. After scheduling your meeting you will receive login details by email that you can share with your guests, and a ‘host key’ that you can use to ‘claim host’ and access host features.

A small group can meet quite successfully for a short conversation in Zoom with minimal technical expertise or experience of Zoom, and with minimal hosting by the meeting leader. For a more complex meeting or with a group of more than around 10 or 15, you will probably need enough familiarity with Zoom to manage breakout groups and other host features such as screen-sharing, recording and security settings, and you will need one or two people to be prepared to lead the meeting and manage the technology. Our Zoom meeting room can accommodate up to 100, and it has a wide variety of features and functions available. For support or with questions about Zoom see Zoom Help, and for a guide to remote facilitation and online meetings see SessionLab.

To add an event in Zoom to the GOC events calendar for other members to join, just submit an event in the usual way. In the member-only information under ‘meeting point’, include the login details that you received by email. Share the host key only with anyone that will need and be able to use the additional host features to host the meeting.

  • To schedule a Zoom meeting and receive login details to share, use the Zoom calendar (below):

Use this Zoom calendar to schedule a one-off meeting in the next 30 days.

If you have any other questions or requests for networking and meeting online with GOC, please email Online group co-ordinator Martin Gilbraith.

Our Code of Conduct and other GOC polices and guidelines apply to online events as they do to others.


See also about me, how I work, who I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Free facilitation coaching for youth social justice and sustainability work

Amnesty International Activism Hackathon, 2017 in London - photo Amnesty, facilitation Martin Gilbraith #ToPfacilitation 3


Could you use some support to address a facilitation question or challenge you are facing, to design or prepare an upcoming workshop or process, or to reflect and learn from some recent experience?

Are you up to 35 years old and using facilitation in your work for climate justice, gender equity or anti-racism, or otherwise in response to systemic injustice and oppression or toward achieving a just and sustainable world for all?

If so, read on and feel free to request a first free facilitation coaching session via my online scheduling calendar below.

If you are over 35, working on something else or able to pay, if you are interested in coaching for others or in longer-term support for your professional development as a facilitator, please contact me to ask about my availability and rates for paid facilitation coaching and mentoring – including discounted rates for voluntary organisations & independent professionals.

Free facilitation coaching

I am happy to offer, free of charge:

  • up to three online sessions of up to 45 minutes each, over up to six weeks
  • support for you only, or for you plus one or two others sharing the same question or challenge
  • to review any material that you share in confidence with me in advance of each session
  • to listen actively with curiosity, care and respect
  • to ask questions, to support you to reflect and learn from your experience and come to your own conclusions or solutions
  • to offer feedback and ideas from my experience, and refer you to any relevant resources and sources of support that I can.

In return, I hope that I may be inspired by your work and that I may learn from your experience.  If you find the coaching helpful, I shall be grateful for a short recommendation outlining how it helped.

Rosa BrandonRosa Brandon, Programme Quality Officer at Oxfam Ireland, wrote Feb 22, 2021:

“Martin provided invaluable support to Oxfam Ireland in the build-up to a series of multi-stakeholder online workshops. He provided tailored ‘coaching sessions’ to our team, which helped us to prepare and deliver several engaging virtual sessions. These sessions directly catered to our needs, building our ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ virtual facilitation skills and knowledge. Thanks, Martin!”

Request a first free session

Please scroll down in my scheduling calendar to request a first free session from 2-10 days ahead:


I may cancel your session if your request or eligibility is unclear or if my availability changes. Please give at least 24 hours notice if you need to cancel or reschedule your appointment for any reason, and I shall do the same for you.

If you do not find a suitable session time available, please try again after a few days or more. Please contact me with any queries.


See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Join us in promoting the power of facilitation worldwide this #FacWeek!

Happy Facilitation Week 2021, starting today!

Facilitation Week is a participatory experience that inspires synergy and celebrates the act of group facilitation. Held in the third week of October each year, it’s purpose is to showcase the power of facilitation to both new and existing audiences, and to create a sense of community among facilitators and their groups worldwide. To join in as a participant, facilitator or sponsor, see facilitationweek.org.

The mission of our #FacPower book project too is to promote the power of facilitation worldwide. So, what better opportunity could there be for us to share a brief update on how we have been working to do just that, and how you can get involved?

The #FacPower story so far…

How you can get involved

Please…

  • download and read the whole book, or whichever chapters interest you most
  • rate the book on Goodreads, and add a brief review there – that will help many other readers to find it
  • share your reflections and questions on your own website, blog or social media with the #FacPower hashtag and a link to facpower.org, and mention or tag the relevant contributors – let’s deepen and broaden the conversation together
  • if you have your own blog, podcast or other publication, contact us to arrange an interview or online session with one or more of our contributors
  • contact us if you are interested to translate of all or some of the book into your own language – see our translation page for what support we are ready to offer and what we will expect from you
  • contact us if you are interested to share your skills to help us to develop new editions including print-on-demand, an audio-book and a podcast series
  • follow, like, connect and engage with us on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn & YouTube
  • refer to our media kit and Creative Commons license for the resources you need to otherwise help to get the word out, or to use excerpts from the book
  • last but not least, please donate generously to the International Association of Facilitators Bursary Fund, to support IAF too to promote the power of facilitation worldwide.

Thank you!


See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Join us at the IAF Facilitation Summit, Facilitating Breakthrough and Scaling Up!

IAF Facilitation Summit 2021

I am excited to be offering two sessions at the IAF Facilitation Summit next month, one with Adam Kahane of Reos Partners and one with Michael Ambjorn of AlignYourOrg – to join us, register now! #FacilitationSummit


Facilitating Breakthrough

Facilitating Breakthrough:

How to Remove Obstacles, Bridge Differences, and Move Forward Together, 7-8pm UK time

Adam Kahane has facilitated in more than fifty countries and in every part of the world, with executives, politicians, generals, guerrillas, civil servants, trade unionists, community activists, United Nations officials, clergy, and artists. His work with diverse teams of stakeholders trying to make progress on their most vital challenges has been praised by Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela and Juan Manuel Santos.

Facilitating Breakthrough, Adam Kahane

Kahane has just published a new book (his fifth) entitled ‘Facilitating Breakthrough: How to Remove Obstacles, Bridge Differences, and Move Forward Together’, which offers a new theory and practice of facilitation. He argues that it is becoming harder for people to move forward together, and that although facilitation is supposed to help, the two most common methodologies – subordinating everyone’s interests to the good of the whole, or enabling everyone to do their own thing – both block progress.

His book describes a new approach, transformative facilitation, which cycles back and forth between these two approaches, removing the obstacles that stand in the way of everyone contributing and connecting equitably.

“Facilitating Breakthrough is thoughtful, reflective, and inspiring. To achieve breakthrough results on high-stakes challenges, facilitators need to raise their game. This book explains how.” – see publications.

Join us for this 60-minute conversation to engage with Adam and each other on some of the ideas raised in the book, and how they relate to our own experience.


Scaling Up Engagement & Dialogue

Scaling Up Engagement & Dialogue

Exploring the ladder of engagement, and how we can climb it with those that we work with, 11-12.30pm UK time

Join us in exploring the ladder of engagement, and how we can climb it with those that we work with. Share your experience in changing the conversation, at scale, so we can all become better at it.

Power of Facilitation cover

In this 90-minute workshop we’ll explore together how the roles, skills and tools of the facilitation and communications professions can complement each other, and help us to scale up engagement and dialogue for positive social change. We’ll draw on some insights of previous work on the power of partnership between facilitation and communication, and we’ll apply some of the tools of the two professions to generate new insights together.

Michael and I are contributors to The Power of Facilitation, a collaborative book project by a team of facilitators and visual practitioners to showcase the power of facilitation.

“The book project is a labour of love for all contributors. Our mission is to promote the power of facilitation worldwide. We are making the book available for free in order to enable and encourage everyone to read it and to share it” – see publications.

Read our chapter The Power of Partnership Between Facilitation and Communication and download your free copy now. #FacPower


See also about me, how I work, who I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Reflecting on a year of freelance facilitation online, and looking ahead

Scaling up engagement and dialogue the power of facilitation and communications in partnership #FacPower

I Declare A Climate Emergency

This time last summer, as I reviewed the year to June 2020, I reflected that my January 2020 resolution to travel less and work more online had worked out well so far. I am still wondering when I might finally be tempted to accept any face-to-face work.

As in previous years, I shall share here some data and reflections on the last year of my professional practice, and some insights and implications for my future practice and professional development. It is a four-level ORID reflection, of course.

In the year to June 2021 I delivered 32 contracts for 22 clients. That compares with 25 contracts for 19 clients the year before, and 25 for 14 the year before that. As my work has gone wholly online the past year, and part of the year before, numbers of contracts and clients have risen. It has felt busier too. After deciding and then failing to keep this summer largely free of client commitments, I am appreciating that I have now finally made some time to catch up and reflect.

This past year’s contracts involved a total of more than 100 individual online sessions and no travel at all. That compares to 14 face-to-face, one ‘hybrid’ and 16 wholly virtual events (of one or more sessions) the year before, involving 28 nights away from home for work; and 31 face-to-face and just one virtual event the year before that, with 47 nights away. My business expenses for travel and accommodation fell to zero for the past year, and with them the associated carbon impact (and the many transactions to be recorded and reconciled in the accounts).

Introduction to Producing Virtual Events

Because most online sessions require a producer as well as a facilitator, or two or more facilitators to share those roles, most of these these contracts have involved working as a team. For ten I was sub-contracted to a colleague, and for 19 I sub-contracted one or more colleagues myself. That compares to 7 and 4 the year before. This past year I have worked solo hardly at all, whereas before the pandemic I worked alone more often than not. I have very much enjoyed the opportunities for broader and deeper collaboration with colleagues.

Partners that I have contracted with this past year include ICA colleagues Megan Evans, Alan Heckman, Jo Nelson and particularly Orla Cronin, and IAF collegues Marie Dubost and Bruno Selun. I have collaborated too with others of the ICA:UK team, and that of Orla Cronin, and with many IAF colleagues – some mentioned below.

Clients I have worked with have again been largely UK charities and international NGOs, European agencies and contractors, NGO networks, Associations and a few others. In addition to my usual mix of clients and projects in the fields of international development, humanitarian response and human rights, this past year has seen a welcome increase for me in environmental and climate justice work (another January 2020 resolution) as well as in health and education.

Of this past year’s contracts, 11 involved facilitation while 18 involved training and 7 involved coaching and consulting. That compares to 7 facilitation & 16 training the year before, and 14 facilitation & 14 training the year before that. So I find myself providing increasingly more training relative to facilitation, and increasingly coaching and consulting as well. I have enjoyed devoting more of my energy to supporting others in their facilitation roles and practice, and less doing it for them myself.

Tired but hopeful after an online Management Team “Away Day”

Facilitation contracts this past year have ranged in scale from a single session of 90 minutes at relatively short notice to a series of 20 sessions collaboratively designed and prepared over several months:

Julie Deutschmann, ACE

Julie Deutschmann, Communication Officer at Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE-CAE), wrote in a recommendation:

“We would like to thank and congratulate Martin for the work done to facilitate the Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE) online Strategic Development Session. The preparation went very well and the integration of new digital tools into the session was very helpful in allowing for the valuable contribution from our members. The excellent facilitation provided by Martin and his colleague Orla allowed participants to articulate strategic thinking while sticking to the aims of the workshop.”

Barbara Weber

Barbara Weber, Director, Global Strategy and Impact at Amnesty International, wrote:

“Thanks for facilitating our online Strategy Labs – cross-regional, multiple languages. You supported us in focusing on the main issues. Very much appreciated.”

Introduction to Facilitation Online

My scheduled public training this past year has been limited to my Introduction to Facilitation Online session, which I provided 6 times publicly during the year and 9 times in-house. I worked with fellow ICA:UK trainers to develop and deliver the new Group Facilitation Methods I Online and with Orla Cronin to deliver and offer the new Introduction to Producing Virtual Events I Online session and Facilitating Virtual Events I Online course as well. Instead of offering the longer courses publicly myself, I have chosen to offer them in-house only and to refer individuals to the ICA:UK schedule.

Training contracts this past year have ranged in scale from a single introductory session for one group to a series of multi-session courses for multiple groups:

Louise Reeve, Policy and Communications Business Partner at Newcastle City Council, wrote in a recommendation:

“Some training to recommend from Martin Gilbraith – I attended his Introduction to Facilitation Online course. Whatever your experience level, you should find something in this training which can make your online sessions just that bit better and more enjoyable”

Enrico Teotti

Enrico Teotti, Agile coach and (visual) facilitator at Avanscoperta, wrote:

“I attended Martin’s ORID class online Group Facilitation Methods Online. The class was divided with practical homework and exercises which I find a great way to learn. Martin and Jo were great hosts able get in to deeper conversations when the group desired that still respecting the course agenda.”

Coaching and consulting contracts this past year have ranged in scale from one or two one-hour sessions with a single coachee to providing training, coaching and consulting support for multiple teams to design and lead multi-session and multi-lingual international conferences for hundreds of delegates:

Rosa Brandon

Rosa Brandon, Programme Quality Officer at Oxfam Ireland, wrote in a recommendation:

“Martin provided invaluable support to Oxfam Ireland in the build-up to a series of multi-stakeholder online workshops. He provided tailored ‘coaching sessions’ to our team, which helped us to prepare and deliver several engaging virtual sessions. These sessions directly catered to our needs, building our ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ virtual facilitation skills and knowledge. Furthermore, he also co-facilitated an in-house “Introduction to Facilitation Online” workshop with colleagues across Southern and Eastern Africa. This excellent workshop was well received by all participants. Thanks, Martin!”

Björn van Roozendaal

Björn van Roozendaal, Programmes Director at ILGA-Europe, wrote:

“Together with other folks at the Kumquat team Martin helped us to organize the ILGA-Europe Gathering Online 2020. Organizing a large event online for the first time came with many questions and challenges. Martin particularly helped us with providing training and assistance to put together the flow of the programme and to ensure that we were ready to facilitate the many spaces that our event was made up with. It was a pleasure working with Martin!”

Just as last year was drawing to a close in June, a new contract with Amnesty International was getting underway in preparation for its first online Global Assembly. This involved me and my team of Marie Dubost, Orla Cronin, Hector Villarreal Lozoya & Charo Lanao in the design and facilitation of a series of 16 Discussion Group sessions in July & August and parts of last week’s plenary meeting as well, with 3-4 delegates of each of 65 national entities worldwide working in English, French and Spanish.

Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais

Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, Interim Chair of the International Board, wrote:

“Martin has been an asset to Amnesty International. He was a consistent and compassionate presence through multicultural regional meetings and strategy sessions. Throughout 16 sessions of the online 2021 Global Assembly of Amnesty International, he demonstrated a high technical proficiency on the complexity of organisational procedures, terminology, and processes. He demonstrates that he truly hears and sees everyone and increased the quality of our participation.”

In my volunteering, I completed 5 years of chapter leadership with IAF England & Wales in December. That left me (happily) without regular Board meetings to attend for the first time in perhaps 25 years!

IAF E&W 2020 Annual Conference

For International Facilitation Week in October, the first online IAF England & Wales Annual Conference had attracted over 100 participants for a full week’s programme of over 25 peer-led learning and networking sessions, led largely this year by Susannah Raffe and others of the IAF E&W Leadership Team. The regular schedule of several free, online facilitation meetups each month continues still.

I continued to serve as a mentor in the IAF mentoring programme, stepping up my commitment this year to working with two mentees in parallel. I have continued to gain as much as I have given, and have very much enjoyed the opportunity to accompany fellow facilitators on their professional journey in this way.

Chizu Matsushita, Facilitator of dialogue and participatory community/team development, wrote:

“I grew from being not confident at all to quite confident about the facilitation skills I have been developing. I have felt a tangible impact. I now believe that a professional facilitator is a real and incredibly impactful profession through which I can make contributions in areas I deeply care.”

I have not been anxious to take on another long-term leadership role, but I have diversified my volunteer interests a little by turning my social media experience to tweeting since last September for the Gay Outdoor Club. This is a group that I have appreciated participating in for many years, all the more since I have been travelling less and keen to be outdoors more. I have continued to serve as volunteer webmaster for ICA International and to tweet for International Facilitation Week.

Facilitation Competencies for Agilists

I continued to host free facilitation webinars, although somewhat less regularly this past year and mostly only in response to invitations from partners. This happened to result in two sessions for different groups on Facilitation Competencies for Agilists, plus Is there a single, universal principle of facilitation? with IAF Belgium and Scaling up engagement and dialogue for the IAF global webinar series.

This last session drew on insights of previous work with Michael Ambjorn of AlignYourOrg on the power of partnership between facilitation and communication, including research for a chapter in the book the Power of Facilitation #FacPower.

FacPower out now!

Now available since May, this book is free to download in order to enable and encourage everyone to read it and to share it.

For your free copy please click here or on the image (right), and for recordings of ‘meet the author’ sessions held over the summer see News – #FacPower.

Facilitating Breakthrough, Adam Kahane

I have been increasingly been invited this past year to contribute to, endorse or help to promote the publications of other colleagues as well, and I have been pleased to be able to do that. This has included an endorsement and an online session in support of More Than Halfway to Somewhere: how exposure to other cultures has shaped our lives with ICA colleague John Burbidge, a Foreword to How to Facilitate LEGO Serious Play Online by Sean Blair and most recently an endorsement and an online session (next month) in support of Facilitating Breakthrough: How to Remove Obstacles, Bridge Differences, and Move Forward Together by Adam Kahane. I am more than a little awe-struck to find my endorsement for that latter book listed next to one from Nelson Mandela.

In September I joined IAF Chair Vinay Kumar in exploring the rapidly growing field of virtual facilitation in a podcast Re-Tooling for Virtual Facilitation.

So what I have learned, and what are some implications for my future practice and professional development?

If keeping my resolution to travel less and work more online was ever going to be difficult, it didn’t turn out that way. Before the pandemic I had found it difficult to commit to multiple short online sessions over time while remaining available to commit to several days or a week at a time for a face-to-face event plus travel. Since my schedule has filled with short online sessions that can be delivered from home, or even elsewhere, I have had no appetite to commit to being in a particular place to deliver, nor to accept the risks and uncertainties now associated with working face-to-face. When I am finally tempted to accept face-to-face work again, it will most likely be at short notice and local to me or at least easy to reach without flying. My expectation is that I shall continue to work mostly if not wholly online.

When is online better than face-to-face

I find that there is ample continuing demand for online facilitation services, not least among international organizations and other distributed groups who may also be concerned to reduce the expense and carbon impact associated with meeting face-to-face. My experience has been that many clients and groups have been pleasantly surprised and impressed over the past year and more by what can be achieved online, that they continue to recognize that they have much to learn in order to best reap the benefits and avoid the pitfalls, and so they continue to recognize the potential added value of professional facilitation services more than for the face-to-face context with which they are still much more familiar. While they are finding that meeting effectively online does not save all of the costs of meeting face-to-face, the savings can allow them to budget for facilitation that they otherwise may not have.

After growing and leading a team of Associates with ICA:UK over many years, and leading and managing larger and more collaborative client projects, I chose to keep my practice small and work largely solo since I went freelance in 2012. While I have enjoyed that, I find now that I have enjoyed leading and managing larger and more collaborative client projects again, online, so I am inclined to allow that to grow further.

After choosing to keep my taxable business turnover below the threshold at which I would be required to register for VAT, partly in order not to make my services more expensive to unregistered smaller clients and individuals on public courses, I have found myself unable to maintain that this year and I have had to apply to register. So I am inclined to accept the administration of VAT in preference to that of public courses, and to accept the potential loss of smaller clients and projects in favour of fewer larger ones.

I have enjoyed the growth of coaching, consulting and mentoring that has occurred organically in my practice over the past year and more, so I shall include those more explicitly in my offer in order to grow them further.

I have enjoyed working on several client projects involving international governance this past year, and finding my own governance experience relevant and helpful for that, so I am interested to see that grow further – and therefore I am interested that two such new opportunities have just arisen already in the past weeks.

I have been challenged by the Black Lives Matter movement and other recent manifestations and responses to systemic injustice and oppression, and by clients who have been similarly challenged, to reflect on how I might ensure that my own practice is more effectively and explicitly anti-racist, feminist and anti-oppressive, and to commit to working on that.

I have enjoyed continuing to advance my Spanish learning since returning from Sitges into lockdown last year, and finally being able to return for a first visit again last month. I hope to continue advance, and to continue to visit.

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